Forgiveness in “Thank You, Ma’M” by Langston Hughes

The Life Lessons of Trust and Forgiveness

Final Annotation Project

As I collected and analyzed these different annotations, I choose from the Thank You Ma’am by Langston Hughes I realized that certain phrases had a purpose for why he put them in the story. Langston Hughes published the short story in 1958, the African American experience during the 1950s gives inspiration to how Hughes writes this short story. I chose to focus on one text of “Thank You Ma’am” because each annotation I picked would allow me to tie my project together through the importance of the theme of forgiveness. The definition of forgiveness I thought fit best with this story is the action of forgiving, pardon of a fault, remission of a debt. That’s the reason Hughes puts certain phrases to show how the action of forgiveness helps build this relationship between Roger and Mrs. Jones throughout the story. Each annotation details its importance within the story and how it helps Langston Hughes convey the theme of forgiveness through the actions of Mrs. Jones and Roger in the story.

From Langston’s Hughes, “Thank You, Ma’am”

174.11-12 “Here I am trying to get home to cook me a bite to eat and you snatch my pocketbook” in the first part of this phrase, Mrs. Jones states out to Roger how he has messed up her daily routine of walking home and making dinner by trying to snatch her pocketbook. This represents Harlem during the 1950s, with rapid population growth, the crime rate began to increase. The author Langston Hughes is known for having a meaning for objects in his poems. In “Thank You Ma’am” there are certain words that Hughes purposely put in the story and one of those words is a pocketbook. The definition that Hughes uses in this story is that a pocketbook is a handbag or purse for banknotes or coins, one belonging to a woman also a woman’s handbag for carrying everyday personal items. This definition fits with how pocketbook is used in the story because Roger tries to steal Mrs. Jones’s purse because he knows she has money in the purse. In this instance, the pocketbook and Mrs. Jones represent a source of income which is very important to remember during this part of the story.

174.17” I wanted a pair of blue suede shoes” Langston Hughes throughout the story changes the meaning of what the blue suede shoes represent in the story. At the beginning of the story, the shoes can represent the things that Roger wants in life but can’t have. They become a temptation for which causes Roger to attempt to steal Mrs. Jones’s pocketbook. Then we begin to see the representation of the shoes change as Mrs. Jones has Roger over for a meal. When it comes to the end of the story the blue suede shoes’ symbolic meaning changes. When Mrs. Jones gives Roger the money for the blue suede shoes it represents a new beginning for a better life for him. Now when Roger wears the blue suede shoes, he will be reminded of how Mrs. Jones nurtured him like he was her own child and forgave him for his past fault.

174.5 “Then, Roger, you go to that sink and wash your face,”. Langston Hughes is a famous Harlem Renaissance poet that is known for using symbolism throughout various poems he has written. I choose this quote out of the story because it has a deeper meaning of when she tells him to wash his face. When she tells him to wash his face, you get to the point of the story whereas as a reader see Roger in a way change his attitude and behavior. So when he does wash off his face it represents Roger cleaning away his act of him trying to steal the purse earlier in the story. This is a point where we see Roger begin to mature. In addition, we begin to see Mrs. Jones play the mother role and nurture Roger as if he was her own child by telling him to clean himself up. I think Langston Hughes wants to convey a message to the reader that in life a person can always have a fresh start life no matter their past actions.

174.15-16 “I believe you’re hungry—or been hungry—to try to snatch my pocketbook” this phrase has importance because you can infer that Mrs. Jones and Roger live in a poor neighborhood. It shows two sides of a poor neighborhood from the perspective of Roger then of Mrs. Jones’s perspective. From Roger’s perspective, it shows how children in poor neighborhoods do not have much to go to at home, they are neglected and need a person that can care for them. Roger in the story is described as this young boy who doesn’t look well kept and that we learn he also doesn’t have anyone at home to take care of him. Mrs. Jones’s perspective shows a different side of a poor neighborhood as she is seen as a strong woman that shows compassion towards Roger when she takes him home and cleans him up, feeds him food, and gives him money for shoes. Instead of her turning him over to the cops, she shows this act of compassion which shows how a strong black woman can take care of anyone they choose to.

175.2 “Do you need somebody to go to the store” at this point in the story we begin to see Roger’s attitude beginning to change. We start to see him wanting to earn the trust of Mrs. Jones and not doing anything that would make her not trust him. Hughes puts this question at this point in the story to show the trust Mrs. Jones starts to have for Roger and he wants her to continue to trust him, so he does nothing to sabotage it. From Roger’s perspective with her allowing him into her home and taking care of him is something he appreciates since he doesn’t have anyone at home that can care for him. Her act of forgiveness towards him starts a bond between the two and he feels he doesn’t want to act in such a way that leaves her not to trust him anymore.

Completing these annotations helped me understand the importance of phrases and their place within the story. When creating these annotations, it opened my mind to a different way of thinking when I’m reading a text. Now after completing these annotations when I re-read the story, I’m able to better understand why Langston Hughes wrote the story this way and why he put certain words and phrases in the story. This project taught me how to explore the relevance of time, place, and cultural impact of the text instead of just thinking of the text itself. The enlightenment I received from doing this project will help me soon when I must understand and breakdown more texts like this story in the future.

Works Cited

  • Bilal, Hafiz Ahmad. “Analysis of thank you m’am: Halliday’s metafunctions.” Academic Research International 2.1 (2012): 726.
  • “Discover the Story of English More than 600,000 Words, over a Thousand Years.” Home: Oxford English Dictionary, www.oed.com/view/Entry/73340?redirectedFrom=forgiveness #eid.
  • Hughes, Langston. “Thank You, Ma’am.” Impact Fifty Short Stories. Fannie Safier. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. Print 62.
  • “Overview: ‘Thank You, Ma’m’.” Short Stories for Students, edited by Sara Constantakis, vol. 29, Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1430007065/LitRC?u=tel_a_tstu&sid=LitRC&xid=9ef20989. Accessed 27 Mar. 2019.
  • “Pocketbook, n. and Adj.” Pocketbook, n. and Adj. : Oxford English Dictionary, www.oed.com/view/Entry/146407?redirectedFrom=pocketbook#eid.
  • Unknown. “Thank You M´Am (Traditional Criticism, Langston Hughes).” Thank You M´Am (Traditional Criticism, Langston Hughes), Blogger, 18 Aug. 2017, francisliterary.blogspot.com/2017/05/critic-of-thank-you-mam-langston-hughes.html.
  • Unknown. “Literary Criticism of ‘Thank You Ma’am’.” Literary Criticism of ‘Thank You Ma’am’, 1 Jan. 1970, ombaba44.blogspot.com/2015/05/literary-criticism-of-thank-you-maam.html.
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